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Chemical Month | Triclosan

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Oh, the irony: A common antibacterial ingredient in hand soap is harmful to humans and wildlife, and may cause the rise of super-bacteria [from " Chemical Month " on 13.7 Billion Years]


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Oh, the irony: A common antibacterial ingredient in hand soap is harmful to humans and wildlife, and may cause the rise of super-bacteria

[from " Chemical Month " on 13.7 Billion Years]

The safety of the antibacterial agent triclosan is currently under safety review by the FDA, which Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) note in Politico, "has made clear the best way to protect against harmful bacteria is by using old-fashioned soap and water."

"It's this simple: Soap stops germs. Triclosan only raises health risks," Markey and Slaughter write.

"Whole bathrooms and bedrooms can be outfitted with products containing triclosan...including pillows, sheets, towels, and slippers," wrote Stuart B. Levy from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, in a paper published in the June 2001 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

"Bacteria are not about to succumb to this deluge, however. Through mutation, some of their progeny emerge with resistance to the antibacterial agent aimed at it, and possibly to other antimicrobial agents as well," Levy says.

Oh, the irony: Triclosan, meant to combat bacteria, may be the cause of the rise of super-bacteria.

But it's not just the fear of new super-bacteria that is concerning. A 2005 study by Virginia Polytechnic and State University found that triclosan can combine with chlorine in tap water to form chloroform, a chemical that the EPA classifies as a probable human carcinogen.
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A 2006 study of 36 mothers by the Institute of Odontology at Karolinska Institutet in Huddinge, Sweden, found that "triclosan and/or its metabolites were omnipresent in the analyzed plasma and milk."

But humans aren't the only unwitting victims of this unnecessary and harmful ingredient.

"Dolphins are swimming in waters tainted with germ-killing soaps," writes Brett Israel in Environmental Health News, in an article about how triclosan, a common antibacterial agent chemical agent used in hand soap and dish detergent, is "accumulat in g in dolphins at concentrations known to disr up t the hormones and growth and development of other animals."

A 2009 study published onl in e in the journal Environmental Pollution found triclosan in one-third of wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) tested in South Carolina waters and nearly 25 percent of those in Florida waters. It marked the first instance that triclosan has been discovered in the blood of a marine mammal.

Though public sewage treatment processes scrub out many contaminants, triclosan does persist and gets washed into rivers, harbors, lagoons and coastal waters, harming marine plants and animals.
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When introduced into surface water and degraded by sunlight, triclosan can form dioxins, environmental pollutants that are suspected to be cancer-causing to humans. Dioxin pollution has been around since the early Industrial Revolution.

In 2005, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that "no evidence suggests that use of antibacterial soap containing 0.2% triclosan provides a benefit over plain soap in reducing bacterial counts."


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Reynard Loki is a New York-based artist, writer and editor. He is the environment and food editor at, a progressive news website. He is also the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio whose projects (more...)

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